In a world where everybody eats, everybody thinks they’re a food critic to boot. Noncommercial foodservice is a business even higher-level leaders may think they intuitively understand—but it holds so many complexities that they may need help. That’s why many culinary directors find they have to be creative about telling their story.
A first step: ensuring that leaders have lots of firsthand exposure to the program. At University of Oregon in Eugene, Director of Food Services Tom Driscoll set out to make the Ducks Dine On program for faculty and staff more robust, allowing diners to buy blocks of 25-100 meals.
The program has doubled enrollment each of the last three years, up to 2,116 plans sold and generating $800,000 annually. Many administrators have “re-upped,” buying larger blocks— which tells Driscoll that Ducks Dine On is accomplishing its mission of growing both revenue and goodwill. “You start to see those administrators and people from other parts of campus in your dining halls,” he says. “It really does help people feel invited and included.”
At the University of Washington, Director of Dining Services Gary Goldberg found the Seattle campus heavy on student activism, so he enlisted student help in making Dining Services’ case to administrators. In October, he formed a Dining Advisory Committee, and meets with its 12 student members regularly for project discussions and food tastings. Goldberg also speaks to the Residential Community Student Association every Tuesday night and says he seeks out every chance he can to meet with groups.
“We’re so engaged with students that senior management is aware of that, and it puts us on solid footing,” he says. “This is a highly engaged activist campus, so we do our part to get out in front of some of that activism.”
Goldberg’s superior, Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Executive Director of Housing & Food Services Pam Schreiber, calls this strategy “brilliant.” Schreiber lets students tell administrators the story of their unique interactions. If their nutrition class met at a dining hall, or they had a chance to cook with the executive chef, she’ll pass on their social media post or bring a student to a meeting with an administrator.
“Anytime Gary says, ‘We’re initiating something,’ that’s valuable to me,” she says. “When I report up to my VP, anytime we engage uniquely, that’s first on my list of things to share.”
The lesson is applicable to all kinds of organizations, Schreiber says: Figure out what is most valued—whether it’s sustainability, resident satisfaction, or beyond—and report the ways you’re in sync. “Whatever the institution is trying to promote, foodservice should demonstrate that they, too, are on board with that,” she says. “That’s the trick.”